By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
The Naughty Aughties are over, and I'm LMFAO. It will be remembered, if at all, as the decade of the TMI generation. The 15-second fame gang. The micromanaging maniacs. The attention-whoring-for-lunch bunch. The iPhone, iPod, iMac, IMAX, and eye-lift folks. The people who have already forgotten this paragraph.
Breaking news about every possible global brain fart was instantly accessible, and you spent most of your time sneaking a peek down at your BlackBerry to read it during intimate dinner dates. Everyone was a star, a critic, and a victim, and—as traditional media dwindled and reshaped—they were journalists, too, from the guy who dressed like a pimp to entrap ACORN to the man with a camera who got tossed out of Gypsy when Patti LuPone screamed, "Who do you think you are?"
Social networking became the way to catch up with old friends you'd avoided for years and to tell the world about your latest mood swings, moviegoing experiences, and bathroom achievements. Even celebrities—who'd long built up a wall of privacy by hiding behind lying publicists—couldn't help Tweeting their every thought, caught up in the universal need to connect, to emit, to admit, and to bore.
Unfortunately, the news wasn't all good. The decade was defined by 9/11, a horrific humbling that disrupted our false sense of well-being and turned our country's libertarian ethics topsy-turvy. As traumatic as the event itself was the paranoid aftermath: the terrorist alerts invoked whenever the Bush administration needed a boost; the anthrax scares, which had our mail being surreally delivered with surgical masks and tongs; and the racial profiling, which prompted people in turbans to suddenly sport American-flag pins. Worst of all was the terribly managed war in Iraq, which was presented as payback—though it didn't seem as if we were getting back at the right people. (And those supposed weapons of mass destruction? ROTFLMFAO.)
After eight years of stolen elections and ritualized lying, the Republicans finally lost ground as the Dems experienced a showdown between a woman (Hillary Clinton) and a man of mixed race (Barack Obama), neither seeming like the easiest concept to sneak into office. But despite having once chatted with Bill Ayers, Obama got the nod, and with a big boost from Sarah Palin, he historically rose to power, only to realize that the only war on anyone's minds anymore was the one against their credit-card debts.
As a result of corporate greed, too-easily-attainable mortgages, and a mass blindness comparable to the one we all shared on September 10, the market caved in and suddenly no one was buying Green Acres lunch boxes on eBay anymore. Or anything! People were even going back to regular coffee! OMG. Who needed terrorist attacks when our own capitalist system could handily destroy itself?
A mere year later, pundits' pronouncements started claiming that everything was stabilizing, but that didn't factor in the reality that unemployment had reached a 26-year peak, creating a jobless army that a lot of those very pundits were, poetically enough, about to join. What's more, the tiny bump in sales was only because of Cash for Clunkers, and the mild rise in real estate purchases was mainly due to foreclosures, rock-bottom prices, and temporary tax incentives. Still, the breathless need to keep reporting brushed past the facts and right into our Google search engine.
The entertainment world's reaction to the demands of economics had long been reality shows, cheap-to-produce exercises in trickery disguised as documentary truth, which catered to the trend toward making everyone famous, even if they had to eat worms and battle bad singers to grab their fix of stardom.
In the past, schlock actors used to go into politics (Reagan, Schwarzenegger, the Love Boat guy), but now it was the reverse, as politicians went into schlock performing (Blago, Tom DeLay) and didn't act sufficiently embarrassed about it. For
disgraced personalities like these, reality TV became a catharsis, a comeuppance, and a perverse chance to stay relevant at any cost.
From Survivor to The Osbournes and beyond, the country thrilled to brazen fame addicts revealing it all in dire circumstances, even if there was a trailer filled with panini waiting two yards away. Amid safety fears, money woes, and anxiety over the evaporating environment, America enjoyed sitting back and watching other people degrade themselves for the camera en route to the lecture circuit and/or the Home Shopping Club.
You had to turn to cable news for something meatier, with fiery commentators preaching political wisdoms aimed at the fiery commentators a few channels away, while HBO became the go-to place for quality series about urban angst (The Sopranos, Sex and the City), which suddenly made it cool for smart people to say, "I'm staying home tonight and watching TV."
For a palate cleanser, everyone clicked on Perez Hilton and TMZ's news on the messy pop tarts—the blonde girls who had everything except an idea of what to do with it. These prematurely Botoxed hot messes were the real-life equivalent of reality shows—walking train wrecks who seemed to gleefully self-destruct for the public's delectation. And we comforted ourselves in their Grand Guignol breakdowns, from Lindsay Lohan's ear-splitting public fights with the girlfriend to Britney Spears shaving her head, her husband, and her career before getting it together to be wound up again and sell more records.
Paris Hilton was clearly the steeliest of the three—a Teflon heiress whose scandals only made her bigger, as she rose, dumb as a fox, in almost every medium. The crafty little thing wouldn't even look for a BFF unless cameras were trained on her for a prime-time series.
Paris seemed indestructible—even in a recession—and so did rising star Lady Gaga, a self-created mass of bubbles, carnival masks, fake blood, and real stamina. And along came the heavily made-up Adam Lambert, who proved just how quickly things happen nowadays. A few days after it came out that he told a magazine not to make him appear too gay, the American Idol runner-up thrust a guy's face into his crotch for a mass audience and kissed his male keyboard player. His CD debuted very well—but it still paled next to that of middle-aged reality-show sensation Susan Boyle, who survived a nervous breakdown to make a smash CD of gospel tunes available at CVS checkout counters.
Alas, other icons were dropping like hookers' panties, caving in to a shocking overreliance on prescription drugs doled out by well-paid quacks and enablers. As Anna Nicole Smith, Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson, DJ AM, and possibly Brittany Murphy all tragically expired after proverbial visits to Duane Reade, it was up to the public to decide whether they'd acted out a form of assisted suicide, been cruelly Kevork'd against their will, or just had a terrible mishap. Whatever the case, the pharmaceutical remedies turned out to be way more dangerous than the ills they were trying to resolve.
Cinematic anti-anxiety came via a return to musicals, though the public was generally too savvy for the old-school device of breaking into song. So in Moulin Rouge, the numbers were presented as hyper-edited dreamscapes; in Chicago and Nine, they were gussied-up fantasy turns; and in Dreamgirls, they were mostly onstage or in recording studios. Scoring bigtime were vampires (Twilight drew pubescent blood) and wizards (Harry Potter wanded nerds of both sexes), as well as ghosts, zombies, and any other type of far-fetched presence representing the chance for an afterlife. The mass audience was so ballsily self-possessed, they clung to the idea that not only do you get your old life back via Facebook, but after you die, you get to return for more.
The same went for the movies themselves, which automatically spawned sequels, The Lord of the Rings cranking out three mumbo-jumbo-filled time passers at once. The gamble paid off handsomely, though the money-bleeding stage musical version proved the Hobbit could definitely be broken.
And speaking of outcasts bearing golden rings, gay marriage became the decade's lightning-rod issue and a test of religious people's willingness to rethink the oppressive belief system they claimed came from on high. In California, the same-sex marital right was vengefully repealed by the reverent, though gays kept their veils in the closet and plotted a repealing of the repealing. All through this, gay-dissing beauty queen Carrie Prejean held up the Bible with one hand while desperately trying to keep her clothes on with the other.
In the zombieland of New York, Mayor Giuliani projected a stoicism that helped guide us out of 9/11, but by then, he'd already drained a lot of the life (and nightlife) out of the city by making it a glossy theme park aimed mainly at outsiders and condo owners. His successor, Michael Bloomberg, continued the club crackdowns, which reflected a startling citywide sanitization—though at least burlesque shows started popping up in Brooklyn and on the Lower East Side as a crafty way of bringing the sex back by calling it art.
That almost made up for the growth of the Meatpacking District as a soulless triangle where anyone willing to flaunt a credit card could get VIP treatment from a blonde waitress with a rack and a tray. By the time that area's abandoned elevated train tracks were refurbished and called Highline Park—while Times Square was being converted into a street mall for aimless tourists with no money—the camera wielders who'd stayed away because of the falling buildings were now parking their fat asses in lawn furniture, apparently never to move again. To summon Ms. LuPone again: "Who do you think you are?"
Farewell, Naughty Aughties. Here's hoping the Tempestuous Teens are more of a Tweet. LOL.